Reflections from Downunder

By Edi Birsan

It has been a month since my trip to Sydney which gave me the opportunity to play in the NSW tournament and meet the with the DAANZ group. A month is about the right time to reflect on things as that amount of time allows a lot of the minutia to settle to abyss of the memory pool and for the salient things to surface.

I had been to Sydney in the early 80's for several extended business trips and came away from that experience very disillusioned with massive numbers of disturbing labor strikes, rather disturbing social conditions and constant horrible weather. Well the weather had not changed but I am happy to have seen major changes elsewhere.

The players were all very cool, despite being periodically poisoned by something called vegemite.

The games were all played with a great deal of fun and lack of controversy in game style or philosophy. There was a mix of different ethnic and life style backgrounds in the group which was of absolute no interest to anyone and totally transparent in both the play and socialization of the players. This was a marked change from my prior experiences in Sydney in which I wound up basically on the fringes of a ethnic conflict between Australian dockworkers and Singaporean Islamic ship crews.

Craig Sedgwicks was the main crash place for the billeting group including the Kiwis and some of the players from a distance out. The first night was pretty quite, however on Friday night the group arrived enmasse and with about 10-12 people in the room there was quite a lot of noise. Craig also had just installed a high fidelity DVD with surround sound in the upper range of the human decibel count. The group was determined to blast the various movies. The sound proofing in the apartments (flat) was astounding which is the only reason I can believe that Craig and crew were not found lynched by their neighbors.

Friday night, was exhaustion night for me and I retired somewhat early, however for the rest of the group a combination of non-medicinal liquids with loud movies and a peculiar male bonding ritual resulted in several waking spells to chanting and screams about the "all blicks score" and a women's voice of "if I can be awake after 8 hours of work so can you..." One of the players was a women who came up with Andrew a.k.a. Goffeeeee. She would play in the first round and other than that when I enquired as to what her story was in the hobby, I was politely informed it would simply confound traditional journalistic research.

Saturday morning I had breakfast with Brandon Clarke who came from New Zealand for the tournament. We talked about the play styles and tournament techniques especially since I was concerned about playing with the Drop Dead Deadlines. He advised that what he likes to do is to write all his pieces down as soon as the moves are read and to fill in the obvious moves first so that only a few critical moves need to be filled in at the end. Reasonable and good advise.

The Drop Deadlines is one of my strongest memories of the tournament. What basically is done is that there is a total single deadline which includes writing orders and diplomacy and at the end of the time limit the orders had to be in. In two cases on my boards players units were all held in civil disorder because the player had not placed the orders in the box by the time of the count down. In both cases the players had the orders in their hand. One simply forgot that they were there and thought his orders were in, and the other had a set of orders all written but accepted that because he had not gotten them in by the bell then he was screwed. There were several other cases, some of which I thought were critical in my games where players only wrote some of their orders and so units held, again because of the combined nature of order writing and discussion. From what I understand from players at several of the other games my table was the strictest of the group in enforcement of the deadline. Certainly it appeared later that there were cases where players had moves in hand and simply handed them in after the buzzer or countdown was done.

In all my other tournament experiences, there had always been a period for discussion and then a separate period where you would come to the table and write orders.

The other aspect that left an impression was that there when there are retreats there is no one in the game allowed to point out where allowed retreats are. Technically the house rules allows for the players to call over the GM to make this determination, however, never do since this time is subtracted from the next rounds time period. In three cases I saw experienced players blow retreats big time, including two cases by the same player of trying to retreat to the place where the attack came from and one case of trying to retreat to a place of stand off. In both cases the units were removed rather than saying, nice try take another place.

The strictness of the rule applications and the rule that you are not allowed to point out retreat possibilities makes me wonder what horrible abuses must have taken place in the past to bring us to this very hard nosed approach things.

For a very experienced player like myself, the fact is that it gave me an advantage once I got a feel for the timing. In the afternoons the time limits was reduced from 20 minutes to 14 and at one point I thought 10 minutes making it very hard on average players who had 8 units or more or a complicated set of choices. I have mixed feelings on the Drop Dead Deadlines, first not being exposed to the abuses that brought this about makes it hard for me to appreciate this approach as a solution. Second, I found it was a large competitive edge to the very experienced player once you approached the end game when the deadlines were shorter and the orders longer. On the one hand it allows for greater skill to win out, on the other hand winning by virtue of a player screw up in writing orders cheapens the victory. It is something that is worth exploring further.

As for the games themselves. My first game was the hardest and the last game was the easiest. What made the first game very hard is that I played Turkey which for this tournament was one of the most picked on countries and probably the amongst the poorest in the tournament. I wound up facing an intractable Austro-Italian alliance with a perfidious friend in Russia. One of the most interesting things of this game was the way that it revealed some of the style issues that would repeat themselves again and again for me. One of the things I learned somewhat early on was that lying has a limited use and that there is a time and a place. I also learned that there was no benefit, and a great harm, to lie about something stupid. Yet time and time again players would lie about silly things. Moves which were obvious and not a threat or an advantage, yet they would lie about making them. They would lie about supporting you in impossible situations. It was as if the purpose of the game was to tell as many lies as you could and then hope to put one over on someone. Much of this may be because there were a lot of novices in the games, but it left an impression on me. The last game I played was memorable for several reasons. It was the easiest: for the first 10 game years I had only 8 orders fail due to enemy action. Diplomatically I entered the game determined to take one ally and stick with him throughout the game as a sort of protest to the gross number of casual single center stabs and attacks I had seen in the prior two games. As England I worked a deal with France from the beginning and with the East in constant chaos due to stab happiness and downright personality clashes the game was heading a sweep. Tactically the rest of the board were making simple mistakes and poor calls and the west was doing everything right. In one spectacular turn we had the French fleets trade places with the Italians holding Tuscany, Tyrn Sea and Tunis to smash through the Med and trap several Italian fleets off balance. As the game dragged on all the other games in the tournament ended. My position as England was all over the French who were my faithful ally. I had English fleets in the Tyrn Sea, Mid Atlantic, Armies in Rumania and points east/west. From 1909 on I had 18 centers guaranteed by my count in two game years and at times 20 centers. If I stabbed the French.

Like most very experienced tournament players you have a good feel for where you are when you are when things are going well for you and you can more or less predict where you will be in the final score if you final game goes one way or another. This is not to say that there is anything particularly cunning or evil with this knowledge it is simply a fact that you generally know where you stand. The other games had all ended and players had told us what happened as a matter of socialization rather than a scouting effort my anyone on our table. From this I knew that if I won the game I would win the tournament. If I came in with a high non finish such as 16 or 17 then I would get Best England and maybe come in second or third. The game was coming down to just three of us: England France and a 5 or 7 center Turkey. What to do? France was clearly getting nervous as the number counted down to grind the Turks further and further. We had set up a series of bounces to keep things demilitarized between us. I wanted the game to end on a voted draw to the two of us. France was delaying somewhat trying to get more centers. Then France made for me a critical move: I was doing a self stand off in the English Channel from the Mid Atlantic and the North Sea. France had a fleet in Brest and what he did without notice was to support me from the Mid to the Channel. This was a surprise, and in the final game periods when you are trying to go for a 17-17 split surprises are not a good thing. On the following move I bounced all over him going to 16 centers to his 13 and Turkey at 5. At this point I had to make a decision. By my look I had at least 19 centers assured within 2 game years even with the loss of Rumania to a possible French-Turkish combo. I had set my goal to end the game with the same player as my ally. His bad behavior at the final point was not an overwhelming stab, just an annoyance. To force the game to a draw right then and there would cost him Best France, and allow Turkey to survive for his efforts in causing chaos in the East. If my game was played in absolute isolation of other games, this is probably what I would do as bending someone to your will is far more satisfying than an outright win which in some ways is a little rude. I always prefer to have a voted end to a game and to manipulate the vote(rs). I had proven that I knew what I was doing and by turning down the easy win, it sort of felt that I was tipping my hat to the locals saying thank you for the good time, I didnt come here to take away your championship. So I put it to the players, vote to end the game as it was or else. Turkey jumped at it and the French reluctantly agreed thus at least one game was played to the end where two players stayed allied though with a little rough spot at the end.

Outside of the Diplomacy tables, I played RA several times, and it was regularly pounded, plagued and disastered. It was a fun game. Not as much fun as Settlers of Cataan but worth having. I played this First Voyagers/Settlers game which was about the voyage of the first settlers to Australia. It was a bad game.

Aside from the real fun and kicks and chuckles with the very sociable group of players, one of the lasting memories has to be of Vegemite. This is a substance that is passed off as a food additive or substitute and was gleefully offered to me as an example of the Australasia supreme contribution to the development of culinary arts.

The American government has signed numerous treaties in regard to the proliferation of chemical and bacterial weapons of mass destruction. Somewhere in there is a clause relating to Vegemite. This hideous substance is stored in various supermarkets Down Under and inflicted upon the youth there so they build up a natural immunity and in some cases a substance dependence. The very first full length movie made was in Australia about a mass murderer Ned Kelly. What they don't tell you is that he went on this spree because of Vegemite poisoning and was in fact trying to hunt down the distributors of this vile stuff. With the consistency of last years brown shoe polish left out in the California sun just a little too long and then cooled, Vegemite has a tart decrepit taste that lingers in your mouth, no your whole body after just the smallest bit. I am convinced that the only reason it is stored in supermarkets is that in the event of a Neutron bomb attack destroying all human life in Australia, the new occupants will be promptly poisoned once they loot the supermarket shelves thinking that they are getting some vitamin and yeast supplement (as if yeast ever needed to be supplemented in the human body).

On the whole, it was a fun trip and great bunch of folks to have games with and carry on. I look forward to more trips to the area in the next decade and wish them the best of luck on getting the World DipCon in 2002.

[Editors Note: The Austrailian bid was successful, and they will be hosting World DipCon in 20002.]

Edi Birsan

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